❯ Family Bonds – Family Bonds ch. 1 ( Chapter 1 )
“Few things are as nice as a nap outdoors in spring,” thought Kaoru Hanabishi as he lay in a hammock in the Sakuraba estate garden. The Sakuraba estate was a large, western style mansion on the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan.
Sleeping on Kaoru’s chest was a small white ferret named Uzume. They were a very lazy pair on that afternoon, as they enjoyed the warm breezes, the scent of blooming flowers and the sweet songs of the birds. Kaoru briefly opened his eyes and looked down at the sleeping ferret.
“Good idea,” he said drowsily, and proceeded to follow suit. Soft snores began sighing their way across the manicured lawn.
Uzume sat up with a start and nimbly jumped down as Kaoru tumbled out of the hammock, shocked into full wakefulness by the reverberating scream. Kaoru sat up, looking wildly around for the fire or flood or Nordic Armageddon that could have been the only catalyst for such a horrific shout. The only fire he saw, as he should have guessed, was from Tina Foster, a fiery blond American who lived at the estate with Kaoru.
Tina pelted across the lawn as fast as she could move. “Kaoru! Kaoru! Have you seen Uzume?” she asked frantically.
“What’s wrong?” asked Kaoru with a touch of panic in his voice.
Tina grabbed Kaoru’s shirt, almost in tears. “There’s a cockroach my room,” she cried, “and I need Uzume to catch it! You have to help me find him!”
He sat there for a second, dumbfounded. “If that’s all that’s wrong, I’ll get it for you, Tina,” he said as he picked himself up from the inglorious heap he had made of himself.
He took a few moments to brush bits of grass and flower petals from his clothes, while Tina fretted impatiently.
They walked across the grass to a side building attached by a covered corridor to the rest of the mansion. As they walked, Kaoru thought back to when he lived in a simple, one room apartment and how uncomplicated his life had been. Looking at the large, multi-winged house, Kaoru briefly wished he were back in the little apartment. Then, looking into one of the windows and seeing the diminutive girl in a kimono diligently washing the floor, he felt that he would like one small addition to the apartment. He was distracted from his reverie by a mewling whimper from the girl clinging to his arm.
“Tina, it’s just a bug,” he said. “It’s not a monster from one of your comic books,” this said with a touch of exasperation.
“B-but it’s really, really big, you know?” said the normally spunky Tina. “And it’s one of the kinds that FLY! It landed on my history book!”
“You do realize, don’t you, that Uzume would probably have wrecked your book trying to get the bug,” he said. “And Ms. Miyabi would not have appreciated him bringing it to her as a trophy, either.”
Miyabi Kagurazaki was the manager of the estate, and well beloved by Uzume. She did wish, however, that he would choose less revolting ways of showing it.
Tina looked up at the window where Ms. Miyabi worked. “You’re probably right,” she said. “I think Ms. Miyabi’s still upset about the cricket Uzume brought her last night.”
Kaoru smiled, “Why do you think he was outside in the first place?”
Kaoru, Tina both lived in the side building they approached. A girl named Taeko Minazuki live there, as well. Originally, this building had been used to house the family servants. Now it more closely resembled a college dormitory. All three tenants were students at Tokyo’s Meiritsu University.
Tina and Kaoru entered the building through the garden door, which let them into Kaoru’s room. This was a very neat, though Spartan, room. Folded up neatly on the floor was a padded futon. A small worktable was propped against the wall, out of the way until needed, and a small desk was beside it. On the desk were a couple of college books and other such small things a student would need. There was also a picture of a young Kaoru with a childhood friend. He always smiled, just a little bit, when he looked at that picture.
As he was looking at the picture, Tina jerked on his arm and pulled him into her room. Tina’s room presented a good study in contrasts. Where Kaoru’s futon was folded neatly out of the way, Tina’s was taking up a large portion of the floor. The rest of the floor was covered in discarded papers, and empty beer cans. She had no desk in her room, preferring to set the worktable on her futon and sit on the floor as she worked. Scattered on the table were more papers, a small forest in pencils and an unsteady heap of textbooks. One of these books was propped into a somewhat convenient angle for reading.
“That’s the book,” whimpered Tina, her eyes tightly closed. “That book on the table. That’s where the nasty creature was.”
Sitting on the book as if it owned it was a large brown cockroach. Kaoru looked around the room until he spotted an old paper napkin. He grabbed the napkin and quickly snatched the bug up in it.
“Be right back,” he said, walking out the door so that he could release the cockroach. “OK. Your bug is gone.”
He looked around the room once more, “You know, Tina, if you were to clean up in here, or better yet, let Aoi clean, you wouldn’t have that sort of problem.”
“Ms. Landlady,” as Tina called Aoi, “is a very busy girl! I don’t want to trouble her with having to pick up after me!” Tina smiled, suddenly. “Besides, I wouldn’t know where a single thing was if she cleaned in here!”
As Kaoru was thinking of a response to that statement, he heard a loud crash from the room next to Tina’s.
“Taeko’s home!!!” cried Tina happily, and dashed off to the other room. Shrieks could be heard through the door.
Kaoru shook his head slightly. “Poor Taeko,” he thought. “She`s so clumsy, even if she does try her best.” Then he laughed aloud, “Tina should really stop that.”
This was said in response to the redoubled shrieks from Taeko’s room. Tina had a very unique way of greeting girls. She would giggle and grab the other girl’s breasts and the larger the breasts, the more exuberant Tina’s greetings were. The level of noise from the next room was justified as Tina and Taeko tumbled out of the room. Taeko Minazuki was not a tall girl, though she had enough bust for an Amazon. Tina had both hands firmly locked on Taeko’s exceptionally large breasts and Taeko squealed as she tried to wiggle away from her friend.
Taeko Minazuki was, sadly, one of the clumsiest girls ever to grace the green earth. Hardly a day went by at the estate, where Taeko worked as a maid, that something was not spilled, or broken or knocked loose.
“Oh! Senpai!” said Taeko. “I didn’t know you were home!” She always referred to Kaoru as “Senpai” as he was her senior in college.
“Can you help me, Senpai?” she asked while trying to extricate herself from Tina’s grip. “I really need to get changed to help Ms. Aoi with the laundry.”
“OK,” he said. “Tina, lets go out and see if we can find Uzume.”
Tina perked up from the unwanted massage she was administering, and ran out the door shouting for the ferret.
“Has Chika come home, Senpai?” Taeko asked, trying to settle her red hair into a manageable shape.
“I think she had swimming practice this afternoon,” he said. “So she might be late getting in.”
“I hope she’s careful coming home,” she said. “I worry about her so much.”
“She’s a smart girl, Taeko, and she knows to call us if there is any trouble,” Kaoru said. Chika Minazuki was Taeko’s cousin, a very energetic and cheerful 13 year-old middle school student.
“You’re right, Senpai. I know I worry too much. I just can’t help myself.” She smiled a little sheepishly. “I’m sure she’ll call if there is anything wrong. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get changed.” She bowed slightly and went back into her room.
Kaoru looked around Tina’s room and decided he would be safer elsewhere. As he left the building, he thought about going back to the hammock and finishing his nap. As he approached the hammock, however, the loud snores told him that he shouldn’t bother climbing in, as Tina had already commandeered it.
“Oh well,” he thought with a sigh, “I’ll go see if Aoi is available.” Cheered by the thought of seeing Aoi, he walked on into the house. As he walked across the polished hardwood floors, he could see Aoi’s handiwork in every corner of the room. It was very clean and every surface shined.
Aoi Sakuraba was the girl Kaoru had seen cleaning the floor in the mansion. She was also the girl in the picture on his desk. She was also the Landlady of the Sakuraba Estate. She was the heir to the prestigious Sakuraba Group, one of Japan’s largest international conglomerates. But, most importantly to her, she was Kaoru’s fiancée.
“She keeps it so clean in here,” he thought, though he knew she didn’t need to do it. She was wealthy enough that she could have hired hundreds of people to clean the large mansion, though she preferred to do so herself. She was always so happy to be doing simple household chores.
Aoi and Kaoru had met many years ago, while their families were conducting business together. Kaoru’s family, the Hanabishi, had agreed to betroth him to Aoi Sakuraba, the only daughter of Kenji Sakuraba, head of the Sakuraba group.
Since that time, Aoi had been training herself, with the help of Ms. Miyabi, to be the perfect wife for Kaoru. Her dreams were briefly shattered when she’d heard that the engagement was called off, shortly after her 18th birthday.
Not knowing the reason for the cancellation, she went looking for Kaoru, eventually tracking him down in Tokyo. It was there she learned that Kaoru had left the Hanabishi family to get away from their abusive ways. Kaoru’s father died in a car crash when Kaoru was fairly young. Since the Hanabishi family did not approve of his mother, Kumi Honjo, she had never married Yuuji Hanabishi and so was not allowed into the family. After some time, the family relented and decided to adopt young Kaoru, as long as Kumi left the estate. Years later, his mother passed away. When his grandfather brutally beat him for trying to save a few of the things his mother gave him, he decided to leave the family, never to return.
Aoi and Kaoru lived for a very brief time in his one room apartment, until Aoi’s mother requested she come home. After a long talk, it was decided that Kaoru and Aoi could remain together, though their true relationship as betrothed, must remain a secret. They then moved into a summer home of the Sakuraba’s along with Ms. Miyabi, with the supposed roles of Kaoru being a tenant, Ms. Miyabi being a manager and Aoi being the Landlady. No one else in the house knew of the relationship between Aoi and Kaoru.
“OH! Kaoru!” said a sweet and musical voice behind him.
He turned toward the girl he loved, with a large smile on his face. Just hearing her voice could make him smile. He looked down the hall where Aoi, in a dark blue kimono, was coming out of the laundry room.
“How are you doing, Kaoru?” Aoi asked. “Can I get you anything?”
“Actually, I was looking for you, Aoi,” he said. “I am going shopping for some books in a few minutes, and was hoping you’d like to come with me.”
He always loved seeing how radiant her face became when asked her things like that. Suggesting they go shopping was a spur of the moment notion just so he could see her smile. Besides that, Kaoru thought, shopping with Aoi was always enjoyable.
“I would love to go with you, Kaoru!” She looked down, and saw that her kimono was slightly rumpled and stained. “Would you mind if I took a few moments to change clothes?”
“Not at all. I’m just going to get something to drink. I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re ready,” he said, as he walked away.
As he poured himself a glass of iced tea, he thought about how lucky he was to have such a sweet and cute girl as his fiancée. He was thinking that he would like to buy her some flowers or something, when the kitchen door opened.
“That was fast, Aoi.” He turned towards the door.
“I am not Lady Aoi, Sir Kaoru,” said Ms. Miyabi in her formal, slightly archaic manner. Ms. Miyabi was dressed as she always dressed; a lady’s business suit, with a dark skirt and a light colored blouse, her light red hair falling loose about her shoulders.
“How are you doing, Ms. Miyabi?” Kaoru asked. “Would you like some tea?”
“No, thank you, Sir Kaoru,” she said, as she walked into the large kitchen. “I merely came to ask if you could do me a favor.”
“Certainly, Ms. Miyabi. What do you need?” Kaoru tried very hard to stay on the Manager’s good side. Everyone in the household did.
“Ms. Chika just called to say she missed her train. She said the next train was not going to be there for an hour, and requested you to come to the station to wait with her.”
“I can do that, since Aoi and I are about to go out shopping. We can just ride all the way to Chika’s station. Ikebukuro station, right?” asked Kaoru.
“It is Kichijoji Station, Sir Kaoru. Please do not keep Ms. Chika waiting. And do not let anything happen to Lady Aoi, do you understand?” As she spoke, she moved closer and closer to Kaoru until her face was very close to his. “I would be very upset if anything untoward were to happen. Understood?”
“Of course, Ms. Miyabi,” he said, a little flustered.
For as long as he had known Ms. Miyabi, she had always intimidated him. This was probably due to the fact that she stood almost six inches taller than he and would lean over to stare directly into his eyes. All in all, Kaoru preferred Aoi’s shorter stature.
The kitchen door opened, again, and Kaoru turned away from Ms. Miyabi’s disconcerting gaze grateful to his rescuer.
Standing in the doorway, framed by the warm afternoon sun, was Aoi. She was dressed in a pale cream kimono with a light green obi. There were small grape vines embroidered on the broad sash. She also had a small bunch of flowers in her hair. She was truly a breathtaking sight and Kaoru’s heart skipped a beat as she smiled at him.
“Do you like it, Kaoru?” Aoi asked, shyly, as though she expected Kaoru to hate it.
“I…Aoi…I think…beautiful…” was all he could say.
“I believe that Lady Aoi was asking about the kimono, Sir Kaoru,” Ms. Miyabi pointed out with a slight smile.
Kaoru realized that he had been staring at Aoi’s sunlit face.
“The kimono is really lovely, Aoi. It really suits the season,” Kaoru told her.
Aoi blushed, and half looked away. “I had hoped you would like it, Kaoru. It was one I designed, while thinking of you.” Aoi’s family business started out as a kimono store, and has remained faithful to those roots. “Are you ready to go, Kaoru?” asked Aoi.
“I’m ready, Aoi. Ms. Miyabi asked if we could go and meet Chika at her train station.”
“Though I am a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be with just you, I always feel so positive when I am around Chika!” Smiling, Aoi bowed to Ms. Miyabi. “We will be home soon, Ms. Miyabi. Please take care of the house, and please do not let Ms. Tina sleep too long outside.”
“Leave everything to me, Lady Aoi,” said Miyabi.
“Shall we go, Aoi?” Kaoru suggested.
“Yes. The weather is really nice today!” Aoi added, happily. She always enjoyed the sunshine.
As they walked out of the kitchen together, Miyabi couldn’t help but smile. She really loved Aoi and has very glad that she had found someone who could make her so happy. Contented, she went back to her office. Discontented, she screamed as she saw the roach left on her office chair by Uzume. It was a typical day at the Estate.
Aoi and Kaoru walked down the brick driveway to the road in front of the house. Had they been looking at anything besides each other they might have noticed the red American SUV parked a block away.